I recently received an offer that no one could refuse. A friend's family wanted to celebrate his milestone birthday in an unforgettable way. So, they hosted a family vacation at Walt Disney World and invited me to join them. And the grand finale of this trip was a showstopper. My group did a VIP Tour! Was it worth the money? Well…
How the VIP Tour worked
My party consisted of nine people, and I want to stress in advance that I didn’t pay a dime for any of it. I was an invited guest, so I had no skin in the game, so to speak. I offered to pay my share, but I got shouted down. I did buy family members a meal later in the trip to show my gratitude; that’s as deep as my investment went, though.
For the people paying for the trip, it cost about $600 an hour for seven hours. Disney lists a price range of $425-$750 currently, and the minimum bumped up a few years ago from six hours to seven. So, you’ll pay at least $2,975 plus tax. Since you may spend more to go over the seven-hour minimum, you could feasibly pay $9,000 or more for a VIP Tour.
For that price, up to 10 guests get to participate in the ultimate Disney experience. A highly skilled cast member will transport you to any of the four Walt Disney World theme parks to ride whatever you want.
In most instances, you enter the FastPass line, reducing your wait time dramatically. In a couple of instances, your cast member, nicknamed a Plaid due to the unmistakable outfit color scheme, will take you almost to the front of the line. Friends, it's an intoxicating feeling that rivals any velvet rope experience to walk past everyone else and board Pirates of the Caribbean.
Getting around Disney on the VIP Tour
The most novel part of the VIP Tour happens behind the scenes. The Plaid drives guests in a van, and the paths that the person takes aren’t ones that theme park tourists get to see otherwise. These are backstage cast member areas that will make the Disney campus feel smaller…and less magical.
You’ll look behind the curtain, so to speak, as you ride through these back roads. Shacks, mobile building structures, and abandoned/broken park scenery litter the landscape. Having never worked at Disney, I found the entire experience engrossing.
I wish I could have asked the cast member more. Unfortunately, I sat three rows behind him in the van and could barely hear him most of the time. A suggestion I’d offer to Disney involves some form of intercom system for the van. Communications were difficult with other party members, and we weren’t even sitting in the back row.
Still, this gripe is small relative to the benefits of van transportation. Plaids know the best places to take guests for immediate access to attractions. As an example, we entered Soarin’ from a backstage area…at the World Showcase. Well, it may have technically moved into Future World by that point, but we drove past three pavilions in the moments before we exited the vehicle.
That wasn’t even the most shocking turn of events. At one point, we got out of the van and walked 15 steps. When we looked up, the Floating Mountains of Pandora loomed above us. At this moment, we were already in the heart of the themed land, moments away from entering the FastPass queue for Avatar Flight of Passage. The geography of this blows my mind.
A quick recap of our day
We started at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, where our host arrived 15 minutes early. He introduced himself, explained how the process would work, and then took us straight to Pandora. We started with one trip on Na'Vi River Journey, followed by a pair of rides on Avatar Flight of Passage.
Within 30 minutes, we’d already done enough to qualify as Best Day Ever at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We followed up these rides by riding, not walking, over to Asia for a trip on Expedition Everest. After this, we departed Animal Kingdom in favor of Magic Kingdom.
The Plaid recommended this path to cut back on driving time. He wanted us to maximize the value of our tour, a strategy we followed by skipping rides that were longer like Kilimanjaro Safaris. The plan worked, as our guide had suggested that we would manage about 12 attractions. We actually finished with 16.
At Magic Kingdom, we walked straight on Pirates of the Caribbean – and I can NEVER go back to the regular FastPass line – followed by Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Space Mountain. Afterward, we left this park for Epcot.
Folks, here’s where I will blow your mind. We did all this, and it wasn’t even lunchtime yet!
The cast member transported us to Soarin', as he had a plan for the best way to spend our time. Once we exited the attraction, he took us to Sunshine Seasons for a 1 p.m. lunch. So, I should provide a bit of information right now.
About the meals
First of all, our Plaid rode most attractions alongside us. He indicated that he’s ridden everything at Walt Disney World at least a thousand times. Based on what we saw, I believed him. However, he did cede his spot at Avatar Flight of Passage, which I thought was thoughtful of him.
Similarly, he worked the lines whenever he could as if he were a cast member at the applicable attraction. His behavior made sense because he had as much work experience with these lines as many of the actual employees at the rides. He cared about all Disney guests having the best possible time, not just the nine of us under his guidance for the day. I was deeply impressed by that.
During our meal, the guide held us a table at Sunshine Seasons, no small feat at lunch, and ate with us. Mainly, he listened so as to avoid dominating the conversation. He was the perfect host for this sort of gathering.
The one part that surprised me, at least somewhat, is that we had to pay for our own meals. I would expect Disney to throw in some “free” food at these prices.
Now, I should mention that cast members stand at each park’s VIP drop-off areas with water and snacks. So, we did get supplies along the way. They were good, too. I’ve still got a pack of Starburst lying around somewhere.
We also had the option to dine at any Table Service restaurant that we wanted. No reservation was required! So, we could have walked right into Cinderella's Royal Table if we'd wanted.
The trade-off would have been 90 minutes of tour time spent on a meal that we had to pay for. But I'm still a bit annoyed that Disney doesn't throw in a sandwich and chips as part of a VIP Tour.